Stanford visit and the Hall of the Soil Kings


Visiting California is always a great time, particularly now that I don’t have to live there! Much like you forget about the pestering mosquitoes in winter and wish for a nice snow when its 95 degrees Fahrenheit and humid, I really appreciate visiting California, my old home. I get a certain nostalgia seeing traffic jams and angsty teenagers skateboarding.
However, this time I was swept to the southern Oregon (sometimes referred to as Northern California) to visit a scientist I very much admire and respect, Dr. Scott Fendorf at Stanford. It was a great experience to chat with him and his wonderful grad students and postdocs. The faculty I had the pleasure of meeting in the Earth System sciences group were extremely friendly and shared some insightful knowledge, I would share it here but you have to perform the secret PhD handshake. Although my talk covered some of the doom and gloom of trying to reduce mercury pollution globally, particularly with the rise of nationalism limiting the global action we need, I left the campus feeling re-energized to continue to important fight of documenting regional and global mercury pollution.

While waiting for my friend and fellow UC Riverside and Dartmouth College alumnus Michael Priestaf, I took a quick trip to the UC Berkeley campus. After a brief wander to find a bench to sit and read upon, I found myself next to the famous Hilgard Hall. What luck! For those not in the know about soil science folklore, it is where Hans Jenny worked completed many of his revolutionary works.
The Hall is named after Eugene W. Hilgard, a scientist generally considered one of the founders of modern soil science (I still hold that Vasily V. Dokuchaev in Russia holds that title). Hilgard was a true scientist and studied everything from physics (flame science of all things) to botany and geology. He was self-taught in many fields prior to pursuing higher education from the University of Heidelberg. After being assistant state geologist for Mississippi and professor of mineralogy at the University of Michigan, he became Professor of Agricultural Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1875 and Director of the State Agricultural Experiment Station in 1904. One of his main claims to soil science fame is linking climate to the form and function of soils.
Walking around Hilgard Hall was truly being in the Hall of the Soil Kings. Seeing the old soil monoliths and soil samples collected before me and even my parents were born is quite spectacular. I can only imagine the hustle and bustle in the hallways during peak soil science research, back when California was very rugged and unspoiled by the concrete plague. But as most journeys go, I once again was on the move to catch up with friends and before I knew it, I had to catch a flight back to New York.

Leave a Reply